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Just a trim Putin permits new logging in railway construction. Environmentalists say it threatens Lake Baikal and endangered species.

Source: Meduza
Maxim Kashirin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

In a move that’s drawn warnings from ecologists, Vladimir Putin has signed new legislation that permits clearcut logging in railway construction projects. Passed on July 28 by Russia’s State Duma, the law allows clearcut logging in the construction and restoration of infrastructure in the Baikal–Amur Mainline and the Trans–Siberian Railway. 

A government committee will determine what qualifies as infrastructure under this program, though lawmakers specified that residential buildings are not included. The logging permission is temporary and expires at the end of 2024.

Spokespeople for Russian Railways say the company has no plans to build new train tracks along Lake Baikal’s coastline. “We’re talking only about restoring existing stations and the active railway lines between them, including [...] the construction of additional tracks and some process facilities along the Baikal–Amur Mainline and the Trans–Siberian Railway,” Russian Railways said in a statement

The company says it will remove only small forest belts 10-15 meters wide (about 40 feet) along active train tracks. The company has also promised to compensate for its environmental impact by planting five seedlings for every tree it cuts down. According to Buryatia Governor Alexey Tsydenov, the logging will affect mainly “shrubs and small undergrowth.”

A handful of environmentalist groups oppose the Russian Railway’s plans. Before Putin enacted the legislation, several ecologists wrote the president an open letter, urging him not to sign. The scientists say the law’s greatest danger isn’t so much deforestation as its abolition of environmental surveys needed for renovations on Russia’s transportation infrastructure. 

“If Russian Railways wants to build a fuel silo for diesel locomotives on the shores of Lake Baikal in Severobaikal, there will be nothing to stop them,” said activists from Greenpeace. “If that fuel started leaking into the lake, it would be a catastrophe on the level of Norilsk.” The legislation also scraps requirements for public hearings on new construction projects, leaving local residents in the dark about potential environmental hazards in their own backyard. 

The World Wide Fund for Nature’s Russia branch says the new logging activity will also threaten the safety of protected areas and natural habitats, as well as several rare animal species, including some endangers species. The newspaper Kommersant reported that WWF Russia also asked Putin not to sign the legislation.

Story by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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